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What to look for when buying an electric mandolin?

Assuming I know nothing about mandolin's (not very hard) what do I look for when buying one? I like getting instruments from all of my travels, and the misses and I are going to paris and italy in a few weeks. We are looking to spend only a few hundred on this instrument. I was thinking an accordian at first, but those seem bulky and expensive. Any tips would be greatly appreciated!


treidm Fri, 06/10/2011 - 12:50
Many advertised "Electric Mandolins" are really acoustic mandolins with pickups and/or mini-mikes installed. they are still hollow bodied acoustic instruments.
A real electric mandolin will be solid bodied and look more like an electric guitar, but smaller with 4 courses of 2 strings. Sound wise IMO you will be better off getting an acoustic/electric. They can be played acoustically if an amp isn't around or just for the acoustic sound. Then they can be recorded by mic or plugged in, or played through an amp just like an electric one. The USA made ones are by far the best but cost accordingly. The Pac-rim ones will be cheaper and some are pretty good.
You say a few hundred, which to me means in the $300 range. Let me think a bit and I'll edit or re-post a suggestion

treidm Fri, 06/10/2011 - 14:14
Since a pickup saddle can be added to any mandolin (so it can be played electric), I will give you the mandolin basics for acoustic ones

Bowl-back, "Neapolitan," or "taterbug" mandolins are the stereotype of the breed--the kind of mandolin most often seen in movies, on TV, or on Italian postcards when a mandolin icon is needed. The centuries-old design is a hybrid of violin and lute construction; these days, bowl-backs are more often found on tavern walls than in the hands of working musicians.

The term "A-style mandolin" is a catch-all phrase that loosely describes instruments which don't fall into either the bowl-back or the F-style categories. The term itself comes from the Gibson model-A mandolins first produced in the early l900s. Historically, this group includes Gibson A-models, Martins, Lyon & Healys, Regals, Harmonys, and others with a similar oval-body or teardrop shape.

Typically, they have carved tops and carved backs. (They are usually arched, violin-fashion, rather than "flat"; but the term "flat-back" is accepted usage to distinguish these and other mandolins from bowl-back models.) They may have either a single oval sound hole, or twin f-holes. Other variations include cutaways and body points.

F-style mandolins were pioneered by Orville Gibson in the early 1900s. (Orville also is credited with inventing the first flat-back mandolins.) The basic design of the F-style instruments varies less than does that of the A-styles, though you'll find both oval-sound hole and f-hole versions, and a variety of finishes and materials used. Scroll-and-points body silhouette.

Tone Bars or X-Braced
Tone bars are just like the posts inside a Fiddle/Violin
The tone bar type will take much longer to break in "sound wise", but will mature deeper and for entire life of instrument
Has a tighter/concentrated/bark sound on chops
X-Bracing is braced more like a Martin guitar bracing inside
The X-braced type will be ready to sound good almost immediately, but will not mature like a tone bar mandolin
Has a more open/airy/woody sound on chops

Best bang for buck IMO would be an A-Style
An X-Braced, A-Style would most likely be cheaper
I can't think of any modern ones made in France or Italy though
You may find a used bowl back in Italy, since they were made there for many years
The more modern A & F Styles are pretty much made in USA or Pacific Rim (China, Taiwan, Japan etc..)
Older USA ones can be found for $300
The Pac-rim ones will be the cheapest to find, but never sound as good

Hope that helps....